ELKHART — A bottle of laundry soap or a set of sheets may be something small for a lot of people, but for a college student living away from home for the first time, it can be major.
CARE University has been providing care packages for Elkhart County high school graduates who go off to college since 2016. Danielle Neal started the not-for-profit when she had two daughters go to college at the same time, who found they had to balance grades, jobs and basketball practice.
“They would call home whenever they needed this or that,” she said. “I thought to myself, how many parents and students need this kind of help.”
She hoped to take a little of the stress off of students like her daughters, and show them they have the support of their hometown at the same time. The organization now has a board with 11 members and 25 students participating, who are paired with 22 student advocates.
Something of an extreme couponer, Neal dipped into her own stash of toiletries and other home supplies at the start.
The organization lived off of in-kind donations for the first few years, and so far has sent 73 packages worth a combined $12,000 to 49 students.
They held their first major fundraiser Saturday at Signature Lanes, with the hope of gathering some actual cash that can be used to buy big-ticket items like laptop computers. They also want to create a fund that can cover medical emergencies and emergency trips home, as well as textbook expenses that aren’t covered by a student’s own grants or loans.
They raised close to $1,000 during the bowling event, and expect more to come in later from people who want to help but couldn’t make it, Neal said Monday.
“This will help tremendously for our second semester send-off on Dec. 19, as we send 25 students off with CARE packages to help offset costs for the second semester,” she said.
She said their goal is to have $50,000 by this time next year. They got a major boost when they recently received a $10,000 grant from 100 Women Who Care.
In the fall, they also hope to start a program for middle school students, to better prepare them for going to college, and to help parents learn about things like scholarship opportunities.
Nicki Williams is a friend of Neal’s who now serves on the CARE U board. Her daughter, Zari, is majoring in business at the University of Indianapolis.
“It hit home for me. People don’t realize how much it costs to send a kid off to college,” Williams said between frames Saturday. “It’s stuff that may be small for a lot of people, but it’s major for a college student, to not have to keep asking your family for things. Everybody’s grateful that a program like this exists.”
Six students who participated in the program have earned degrees so far. Neal said one of them moved back to Elkhart after earning a degree in criminal justice, and now works with kids professionally and as a girls basketball coach.
“Hopefully students see that the community is supporting them, and they come back, be successful and become a model for someone else,” she said.
University students are welcomed to apply to the program if they’re a full-time student from Elkhart County with a GPA of least 2.0. More information is available at thecareuniversity.org.